Elkhart, Indiana (Mennonite Mission Network)- Many people have fled the Donetsk People’s Republic, but small groups of Christians remain. Some meet near a bomb shelter built in the 1950s. And when the shells start to fly, the doors open for their neighbors.
The Donetsk People’s Republic is a self-proclaimed Ukrainian state that receives Russian military aid. It was formed by pro-Russian separatists in April 2014 after years of protests and violence.
“I begin to understand the motivation of the confessors and martyrs of the church of Christ,” said Ivan*, one of the few pastors who remain in Ukraine.
Many of the people who have stayed behind in Ukraine’s militarized areas are those who cannot run away: the elderly, children, and people with disabilities. “Certain pastors and their families have made the conscious (and potentially dangerous) decision to remain in the region to serve,” said Mary Raber, a worker with Mennonite Mission Network in Ukraine. Their presence was recently enhanced by funding from Mission Network donors to help their ministries to function. The money allowed several groups to provide meals to people displaced by recent violence. Other funds supported a home for disabled children, single mothers, and families with several foster children. Some of the grant will underwrite a conference on biblical pacifism.
“Our modest ministry continues. As before [the current conflict], we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, help to rebuild believers’ homes ... and we quietly preach the saving gospel of Christ. As it was in Soviet times, we do it in a semi-underground way.”
In a recent effort to control religiously-based terrorism, new laws in Russia forbid the sharing of religious ideas anywhere except in a registered religious organization. “Many fear that even holding a Bible study in one’s own home, or explaining one’s faith to a co-worker, will now be punishable offenses,” said Raber. The laws are expected to be applied also in separatist regions of Ukraine that are supported by Russia.
“It will get harder for us. It is a time of lawlessness and the power of darkness,” said Ivan. “But we believe that hell will not destroy the church of Christ.”
*Ivan is a pseudonym, used to protect his identity.